ASCE peer review identifies ITD strengths,
opportunities for improvement
- Three ASCE peer review teams
- 13 members (representing all areas of the country)
- 173 Division of Highways employees interviewed
- 26 Headquarters division staff interviewed
- 29 staff from other ITD divisions
- 15 staff from partner agencies
- 187 pre-review questionnaires completed
A team of engineers from business and government, assembled from throughout the country, recently completed a thorough review of ITD’s Division of Highways, its organization, function and support systems.
The American Society of Civil Engineers peer review team found ITD employees are committed to their profession and service mission and are dedicated to improvement. “ITD employees take a lot of pride in their work and strive for quality work products,” according to the team’s final report.
“The peer review is very enlightening and includes a non-biased, professional assessment of our strengths and weaknesses,” said ITD Director Pam Lowe. “ASCE identified a number of recommendations that will help us operate more efficiently and improve our service to Idahoans.
“The team’s report gives us a solid foundation upon which to build.”
ITD’s strengths, according to the report, include:
Management and Structure. Overall government structure and management
appears compatible with other state transportation organizations.
Staff Attitude and Capability. The Peer Review Team (PRT) was impressed with the competence, cooperative attitude, and dedication to improvement on the part of virtually all ITD staff encountered. ITD employees take a lot of pride in their work and strive for quality work products.
Mission, Vision, and Goals. ITD has prepared mission, vision, and goals statements as part of a previous strategic direction setting process. This sets the stage for further leadership and management improvement efforts.
“New” Management Team. ITD has a relatively new management team at the executive level of the department. This can provide a fresh look at policies and practices throughout the department, particularly within the Division of Highways, the largest of ITD’s divisions.
Executive/Board Relationship. The board has a statutory role in ITD governance. The PRT noticed a mutually respectful relationship between ITD board members and the ITD executive management team.
Engineering Standards. The Division of Highways has extensive engineering standards and design policy documents available to guide engineering work done for the department.
Public Image. The Division of Highways staff takes pride in their image with the traveling public and has earned their confidence that public safety is always the primary goal of ITD.
8. Functional Team Communication. The PRT observed very good communication among geographically dispersed professional groups (e.g. environmental specialists, procurement, and right-of-way). These represent good models of communication and might be productively engendered among all disciplines.
Opportunities for improvement
The team also identified 10 “key opportunities for improvement.”
Because of significant changes at the senior management level, the department needs to focus on leadership and team building.
The team recommends developing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to help guide strategic planning. The process also should be as inclusive as possible, “from the top down and bottom up” to increase ownership, understanding of the plan and the likelihood of its success.
ITD’s move to decentralization should be evaluated, adjusted as appropriate, modified if necessary and reinforced in 12 to 18 months from its start date.
The positive attitude reflected by staff is at risk of deteriorating because of low starting salaries, relatively low and compressed salaries at middle levels and the advent of retirement by a significant number of knowledgeable senior staff.
“The Division of Highways needs to develop recommendations and appropriate justification for increasing the operating budget, including salaries,” according to the report.
Because of that anticipated wave of retirements and the corresponding loss of its knowledge base, the team said the Division of Highways “could consider implementing a succession planning process to capture and pass on this invaluable institutional memory.”
Visiting engineers also advocated a statewide project management system to ensure continuity across districts to better track district and Headquarters project development activities and ensure that critical activities are optimally managed. The team also suggested broader understanding and use of ITD’s pavement management system and adding a maintenance management component to its financial management system.
ITD should consider coordinating the use of its Geographic Information System and developing a “functional department-wide GIS that will integrate users’ needs for planning, design and reporting.”
The team found a “lack of adequate communication among planning, design, construction and maintenance” within the Division of Highways and suggested improving communication laterally across functional areas. It also should permeate the transportation department, reviewers suggest.
“…it appears that ITD has struggled to implement corporate changes because of its top-down communication style. ITD might consider how to incorporate change from the bottom up.’ Buy-in’ on change needs to be understood at the frontline employee level in order to implement change effectively.”
The report acknowledged that external factors influence ITD’s operation, naming a “fiscally conservative legislature, “ the national economy, climate, geography and the transportation board.
Team members expressed their appreciation to all of the employees who were interviewed and the “outstanding coordination support” extended by Assistant Chief Engineer Loren Thomas and Highway Division Business Manager Mary Lou Brown.
See the full report.